2017-06-14 / Opinion

In My Opinion

The modern-day Volstead Act
BY JEFF POLLACK, CROSWELL
Historian

In the United States we have a long and somewhat mixed history of social, legal and political experimentation. Some have worked, others have failed miserably, and a few still have votes out and we are waiting for a verdict. I believe it is time to call it on one more legal experiment, the criminalization of marijuana (or cannabis, or weed, etc.).

I realize that there is no universal agreement on the fact that the attempt to eradicate marijuana, or remove it from our society has been a failure. Nor do I see a wider agreement on the ethical nature of legalization. However, there are any number of practices that individuals do not agree with that are, nonetheless, legal practices. If we look to history we find a parallel that might have the power to persuade those of us who doubt the possibility and pragmatism in legalized marijuana.

Of course I am referring the to the Volstead Act or the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol. No other piece of legislation has been a greater failure, or had more dire unforeseen consequences than the Volstead Act. Not only did it make many average Americans criminals, but it empowered the existing or the predisposed criminal element to new and unprecedented heights. The infrastructure and money that organized crime was able to accumulate facilitated the growth and expansion of the heroin trade, human trafficking and other illicit activities whose impact we still feel today.

If not for the 18th Amendment it is debatable if this nation, and scores of others impacted by the network of organized crime in this country, would have seen some of its darkest criminal elements take hold, and there can be no question that they would not have attained their malevolent heights were it not for the well-meaning sponsors of the 18th Amendment.

If we draw from this past effort to cure a perceived ill, we can see that our modern efforts parallel this effort, if not in travesty than in scope. We have since at least 1970 (and one could argue much earlier) rendered it an intoxicant of the most vile nature, rivaled only by opiates and products of the coca leaf its destructive and addictive possibilities. We know better, and if you claim not to you are lying to yourself at the very least.

Without question marijuana has its negative side effects, but these are no more profound or harmful than alcohol, or the ingestion of too much fatty food. More over if we are to delve into the medicinal benefits of cannabis versus say opiates, and compare the side effects of those, the discussion is almost not worth having. One need only examine the ravages of the abuses of prescribed medications which often lead to an addiction and heroin usage to see why this conversation is needless.

Further, if one examines the public perception of cannabis and its usage we can see that while a majority of Americans may not use it, a majority do not regard it as being nearly as harmful as other so-called schedule one drugs, and most see the beneficial nature of the substance in particular for medicinal purposes.

So why then do we still have to contend with an outdated, outmoded, and out of touch legal system that seemingly enforces a law that is remarkably backward looking? Why then must we pay law enforcement components to both disrupt production, but also to incarcerate offenders for a substance that most of us can agree does not warrant such expense efforts? It is time to rid ourselves of this reincarnation of the Volstead Act, once and for all.

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